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Saint Gregory
          of Narek

GregNarek Armenian

 One of the most powerful spiritual personas of Armenia

Soorp Krikor
Narekatzi

A.D. 945-1003

Born in the province of Vaspurakan, in the village Narek around 945, Gregory of Narek was a mystical writer, poet, musician, and philosopher.

He received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov Antzevatsi, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from his maternal uncle Anania Vartabed, Abbot of Narek Monastery south of Lake Van. At an early age, he and his two brothers entered the monastic life and grew up in an intellectual and religious atmosphere. He became a priest at the age of 25 in the same Monastery of Narek where he lived till the end of his life. A chapel was built at the place of his hermitage, where his grave lies.

As a monk, St. Greogory dedicated himself to God completely, always searching for the truth. He taught at the monastic school and launched his writings with a commentary on the "Song of Songs," which was commissioned by an Armenian prince. Despite his reservations that he was too young for the task, he wrote the commentary, which is famous for its clarity of thought and language, and its excellence of theological presentation. Other writings include accolade on the Virgin Mary, the twelve Apostles and Seventy-Two Disciples, and St. James of Nisibis. He wrote anthems in honor of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Church and the Holy Cross. Further works include hymns, sacred odes and 36 poems. As a musician, Narekatsi brought new life to the old school of the medieval Armenian vocal art.

Gregory's genius is reflected in his masterpiece - Book of Lamentations. It is commonly called "Narek," or "The Prayer Book", and was published in 1673 in Marseille, and later translated into at least 30 languages. He called his book an "encyclopedia of prayer for all nations." It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer by people of all stations around the world.

The Book of Lamentations is written in the form of a free verse, which is typical to old Armenian poetry. However, certain sections are written in rhymes. The poem is a turbulent pondering of the mind, where each section is an emotional and intellectual limitless outpour. The core of the poem is the inner world of humanity. Through limitless confession and description of infinite sinful life humans lead, the writer tries to approach God and beg mercy. His breathless and tumultuous flow of confession is presented in an unprecedented use of the Armenian language. Some of the terms Narekatsi used in his poem do not exist in any Armenian dictionary. Often, he created words, which were much more expressive than any poetic phrase.

Gregory of Narek is also recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. His name is listed among the saints in the Martyrologium Romanum. Pope John Paul II referred to Gregory of Narek in several addresses and in his Apostolic Letter for the 1,700th Anniversary of the Baptism of the Armenian People.

On February 21, 2015, it was announced that Saint Gregory of Narek would be named a Doctor of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis. His being given this title was not an equipollent canonization since he had already been listed as a saint in the Martyrologium Romanum. On April 12, 2015, Divine Mercy Sunday, during a Mass for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Francis officially proclaimed Gregory of Narek as Doctor of the Church. This special designation was commemorated by the Vatican City state with a postage stamp issued September 2, 2015. 

It is noteworthy that of the 36 Doctors of the Church, St. Gregory of Narek is the first to have lived outside direct communion with the Bishop of Rome.

St. Gregory of Narek is considered the greatest poet of the Armenian nation and its first and greatest mystic. His writing style and command of the Armenian language are unparalleled, and his saintly person has been an inspiration to the Armenian faithful for centuries. St. Gregory's poetry is deeply biblical and is filled with images and themes of sacred history, while also distinguished with an intimate and personal character. Numerous miracles and traditions have been attributed to him and he is referred to as "the watchful angel in human form." 

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The Armenian Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of St. Gregory of Narek in October of each year together with the Holy Translators. In the Roman Catholic Church, the feast is commemorated on February 27.

GregNarek oval2

Saint Gregory of Narek

Detail of icon located on the southeastern wall at
Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church
Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Donated by the Parechanian Family and Richard and Mary Mousaian

In Memory of Hampartzoum and Tourvanda Parechanian

 


Book of Prayers

Written shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, the prayers of St. Gregory of Narek have long been recognized as gems of Christian literature. St. Gregory called his book an "encyclopedia of prayer for all nations". It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer by people of all stations around the world. The masterpiece took on the name of Book of Lamentations, and also simply Narek.

A leader of the well-developed school of Armenian mysticism at Narek Monastery, at the request of his brethren he set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question, posed by the prophets, psalmist, apostles and saints, he gives a humble answer – the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations.

In 95 prayers, St. Gregory draws on the potential of the Classical Armenian language to translate feelings of suffering and humility into an offering of words thought to be pleasing to God. Calling it his last testament: "its letters like my body, its message like my soul", it is an edifice of faith for the ages, unique in Christian literature for its rich imagery, its subtle theology, its Biblical erudition, and the sincere immediacy of its communication with God.

The actual date he wrote the book is not known, but he finished it around 1001–1002, one year prior to his death.

For Narekatsi, peoples' absolute goal in life should be to reach to God, and to reach wherever human nature would unite with godly nature, thus erasing the differences between God and men. As a result, the difficulties of earthly life would disappear. According to him, mankind's assimilation with God is possible not by logic, but by feelings.

Excerpt:

           Accept with sweetness almighty Lord my bitter prayers.
          Look with pity upon my mournful face.
          Dispel, all-bestowing God, my shameful sadness.
         Lift, merciful God, my unbearable burden.
         For you are glorified by all creation, forever and ever. Amen.

 Icons southwest edited

The Southwestern Wall

The icons located on the southwestern wall of the sanctuary represent saints who played a significant role in Armenian Church history. Spanning over 1,000 years, the lives of these men and women proved influential as they contributed to the developing faith of the Church then, and continue to inspire the faithful today.

The iconography at Saints Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, Mass., was the vision of the Very Rev. Fr. Ghevont Samoorian and executed
in collaboration by artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian in 1985-86.


Available: The hanging vigil lamp - gantegh - at each icon of the northeast wall is available as a gift or memorial for a donation of $150. Symbolically a reminder of the Light of Christ, these brass, gold-plated lamps are lit on various feast days and add their warm glow to the prayerful atmosphere of the sanctuary.


[This page designed and created by Deacon James Magarian]